There's No Point to a Commission of Inquiry on Netanyahu's Submarines Affair

Israel Harel
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the fleet, after it arrived in the Haifa port, January 12, 2016.
Israel Harel

Three years ago, when reports began to surface about alleged corruption in connection with the purchase of submarines, the Defense Ministry had a duty to immediately investigate the extent of the IDF’s and the purchasing administration’s involvement in the scandal.

This is certainly true after indictements were filed against former officials, most notably the former navy commander. If Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, the defense ministers during the time the affair came to light, prevented such an investigation, it was the duty of the Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, Gadi Eisenkot and Aviv Kochavi, to investigate. The relevant departments in the Defense Ministry may not have been under their authority, but the navy and other sections of the IDF, such as the Planning Directorate, certainly are.

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They failed in their duty. Only when the threat of an investigation can be used by Kahol Lavan as a weapon against Benjamin Netanyahu – some are rightly referring to it as blackmail –  only then is Defense Minister Benny Gantz “considering” the establishment of such a commission of inquiry.

Earlier this week, right after Channel 12's Amnon Abramovitch broadcast his report about Benny Gantz’s intentions, there was great rejoicing in the “Anyone but Bibi” camp. The celebration was premature. Past experience shows that Netanyahu is always ready to pay exorbitant prices for the sake of his survival. What this means is that in return for a suitable political payment to Gantz, no commission will be established.

And if one is, it will not be authorized to release findings, even if reason is found to do so, against political figures. And if it does report such findings, the “Only Bibi” camp will maintain it was a political commission established with the sole purpose of persecuting Netanyahu. They already point out that the announcement about establishing a commission only occurred after the tension between Kahol Lavan and Netanyahu became intolerable, with the latter on the verge of disbanding the government.

In the past, state commissions of inquiry led people to accept personal responsibility. The Agranat Commission’s conclusion that military leaders bore the brunt of the responsibility for the Yom Kippur War debacle drew harsh public criticism, but the officers cited by the commission, like IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, honored its findings and resigned. A similar thing occurred with the findings of the Kahan Commission on Sabra and Shatila. Its determination that the Israeli defense minister bore ministerial responsibility for the massacre of Muslims committed by Christians provoked an uproar, but heavy public pressure still compelled Ariel Sharon to resign.

Only the cabinet is authorized to establish state commissions of inquiry. As long as Netanyahu is prime minister, there will be no such commission. And for the information of those like Moshe Ya’alon, who are making every effort to get such a commission established and pinning their hopes for ousting Netanyahu on it – the findings of commissions of inquiry are not legally binding. Everyone who ever resigned due to a commission’s findings did so because they could not withstand the pressure of public opinion. When it comes to his political survival, Netanyahu has a thicker skin than anyone ever deemed responsible for a major failure by one of these commissions. Yes, even more than Ariel Sharon.

Besides, no prime minister has ever had such a fervently loyal group of supporters as Netanyahu. Not even David Ben Gurion. Even if he is found guilty on all the criminal counts against him, his devout supporters will attribute it, as Arye Dery’s supporters once did, to a conspiracy by the media and law enforcement.

Nonetheless, despite the political stench that wafts from Gantz’s initiative, the Israeli military must uphold the commandment, “You must purge the evil from your midst” – and not only in the submarines affair.

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